Demographically, I am about as “mainstream majority” as they come. I am a Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male who worked most of his career in the banking industry. An upper-middle class suburbanite heterosexual American to boot. No one would use the word “activist” to describe me. I’m apolitical to a fault, and I don’t talk about much of anything publicly that isn’t directly related to innovation, strategy and leadership in fintech and financial services.
So why should I care at all about this so-called FemTech Leaders movement that seeks to improve gender diversity in fintech and beyond? Why would I even show up at an event focused on empowering women in fintech, let alone promote it on social media?
Three very simple reasons.
First, it’s good business.
Financial services is a particularly cacophonous echo chamber, and I want to be surrounded by as many widely diverse perspectives as possible. Different mindsets, different experiences, different approaches. Views I would have never come up with on my own.
At Next Bank, our mission is to reinvent finance through design, innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s just a dumb business practice to exclude half of our population from the conversation. Especially during a time when so many threats and opportunities are impacting the entire industry in such huge ways.
Second, it’s more like the world where I grew up and live.
I had a strong grandmother and mother whose importance to my childhood that would be impossible to overstate. My mom tells the story of my grandmother bringing home a pair of bright red shoes when she was younger. My grandfather told her they were too flashy and not very “ladylike”, and ordered her back to the store. So back to the store she went— only to return with a matching belt, purse and gloves in the same ostentatious crimson hue. Grandma didn’t need anyone’s permission to wear (or do) whatever she wanted. I always loved that about her.
My mom is naturally curious. She doesn’t have a lot of so-called formal education, but she has what we call “the figure it out gene”, and I wrote before that she has a PhD in common sense. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate formal education. She grew up in a different era in a blue collar family that worked early and often, but she made sure that I was the first person in the family to go to college. “When you go to college…” I always remember saying to me when I was young. Never “If you go”. She instilled in me my love of reading, learning, and traveling, and she encouraged me to explore, take risks and be an early adopter. I wouldn’t be who I am today without her.
My wife is a lot like my grandmother. She didn’t listen to anyone’s career advice about who paid the most or who had the best perks. She devoted her career to helping women who were victims of violent crimes. She has been paged to the emergency room in the middle of the night more times than I can count, got injured in a courtroom brawl, threatened with being thrown in the back of the paddy wagon by a police officer who didn’t appreciate her staunch advocacy for a victim’s rights at the scene of a crime, and helped survivors and their families deal with evidence and testimony that is truly unspeakable and heartbreaking. She could have made more money working at the local mall, and she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I want more awesome women in my life, not fewer.
Finally, it’s more like the world where I want my daughter to work in and live.
There is another awesome woman in my life. She went from wearing diapers to school uniforms to college sweatshirts to an employee ID badge in what I swear could have only been a few short years. She went to an all-girls school for twelve years where the motto was “Giving Girls Their Voice”. We saw first hand the power of every leadership position of every class and every club being held by a girl, and the power of every Ravens’ sporting contest being THE big game— not just the second-rate ‘Lady Ravens’ alternative to the boys’ teams.
These leadership lessons stick with the girls through college and beyond, where the harsh reality of the other 50% of the population invade these artificial constructs. By then they are unafraid to raise their hand in a crowded lecture hall to answer a professor’s tough question, or even better— to disagree with a point in the book. They don’t think twice about whether it’s OK to run for class officer or start a new club on campus. They major in whatever the hell they want.
My daughter found her own voice and I don’t ever want her to lose it.
That’s why the FemTech Leaders movement is so important. It’s not about creating an exclusive group just for women to feel better about being in the minority, it’s about connecting the power of the minds and spirits in all of us to make this industry and this world just a little bit better than the way we found it.
Let’s not stop here though. We have massive under-representation of ethnic, racial, religious, orientation and other minorities in fintech and financial services. The same benefits of diversity are only multiplied when we make a broader effort of inclusion.
My reasons may not be particularly high-minded or socially conscious. I’ll leave it to someone else to inform and inspire you with statistics on workforce participation and pay gaps, and the economic inequalities of non-inclusion.
I just know the world that I want to live in.
Join me in supporting FemTechLeaders.com, where this post was originally published.